Just cruising . . .
A cruise was off the radar this year, for obvious reasons . . . but we still went cruising anyway. What’s more, on this voyage we could determine our own ports of call and my husband Chris helmed the “ship” himself.
As we stowed away our belongings in the four-berth Cascade “suite” with panoramic windows, it occurred to me that travelling by motorhome really is like cruising, only on terra firma — you save at least an hour a day because you are not packing up and unpacking every time you move on.
But it’s even better than cruising at sea. The convenience and novelty of having a kitchen, dining table, lounge, bathroom, bedroom and “bridge” at our disposal 24 hours a day and the ability to stop wherever and whenever we felt like it gave us a giddy sense of freedom.
It took a few days to detach ourselves from the travelling habits of a lifetime such as searching for cafes at lunchtime, restaurants at dinner time, accommodation at night time . . . not to mention loo stops along the way. With the fridge and pantry stocked to the gunwales, meals were only ever minutes away, and the bedroom and bathroom a few steps further.
The other wonderful time-saver is the fact it’s hard to lose things in such a confined space. There were far fewer of those annoying “Where’s my ...?, Have you seen my ...?” conversations. Factor in zero lawns or gardens to maintain, minimal laundry and housework and life becomes a breeze.
But the highlight of our week-long “slowcation” in Central Otago was the excitement of waking with the dawn and looking out the window at a different Aotearoa gem every day.
First stop was Glendhu Bay near Wanaka where we were surrounded by a necklace of snowy mountains with breathtaking Mt Aspiring/Tititea as the centrepiece at the head of the lake.
With two new Wisper Wayfarer e-bikes onboard, we were raring to go. To make the most of the daylight hours, we set off early on the 60-minute, 54km drive to Raspberry Creek carpark where the Aspiring Hut track begins. It’s one of our all-time favourite drives — the road hugs the edge of Lake Wanaka, passes close by the wispy waterfalls of Treble Cone and then heads up the spectacular Matukituki Valley with mountains towering high on all sides. The last 30km is unsealed with several fords so it’s wise to check the weather and road conditions before leaving Wanaka.
The track to Aspiring Hut follows the foaming green, glacier-fed Matukituki River up a wide, sunny alpine valley. Waterfalls tumble off cliffs feeding crystal-clear steams that gurgle their way to the river.
It’s an easy walk that we’ve done many times, starting with a gradual incline mainly over grassy flats, followed by a couple of steep climbs that give stunning views up and down the valley. But biking it was a vastly different proposition — the rocky, deeply-rutted surface was a huge challenge for me as a novice e-biker.
I soon discovered that rocks were like magnets to my front wheel. The more I tried to avoid such obstacles, the more likely I was to hit them. The same applied to negotiating narrow sections of the track. I suddenly became so wobbly I had to get off and push.
That’s all very well if you are riding an ordinary bike, but pushing an electric bike — especially uphill — is a different story altogether.
They are much heavier than their unpowered cousins, thanks to the grunty battery attached to the frame. But the Wisper had a clever throttle device that helped me push uphill with ease.
There were numerous streams to ford which I managed OK with bit of help from Chris, who rode his e-bike across the deeper ones and then nobly came back for mine.
Having conquered the hills and fords, the last part of the track looked flat and easy, but it turned out to be so boggy we left the e-bikes under a tree and walked (or rather squelched) our way to Aspiring Hut. The historic backcountry tramping hut deep in the heart of Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World Heritage site, was built from river schist in 1949. Owned by the New Zealand Alpine Club and managed by the Department of Conservation, there are 38 bunks in two bunkrooms, an outside toilet block with flush toilets, but no showers or hot water. The large common room has gas cookers, sinks, cold running water, stainless steel benches, tables, a wood-burner, solar power and huge picture windows with a tantalising partial view of Mt Aspiring/Tititea.
We munched our sandwiches outside in the sun, ever mindful of the kea eyeing our lunch. Turn your back on these cheeky mountain parrots and they swoop in and steal your food, dazzling you with their scarlet under-wing feathers.
After lunch, we headed back down the valley, taking a detour to the start of the Rob Roy Track only to find it closed due to a slip.
We’ve climbed the track to the foot of Rob Roy Glacier a dozen times in all seasons and it never ceases to astound us.
The track crosses the Matukituki River on a swing bridge and heads up a sheer-sided cleft in the mountain alongside a thunderous alpine torrent. The blue-green gleam of the glacier face is blindingly bright and mesmerisingly beautiful. Occasionally, huge slabs of ice on the terminal face lose their fight against gravity and thunder down the valley in a white cloud — an awesome sight from a safe vantage point.
However, had we done the hike that day, we would have missed the breathtaking sunset at Glendhu Bay.
Sitting outside our motorhome on camp chairs, wearing puffer jackets, beanies and gloves, we toasted the sunset, a fiery blaze of gold and burnt orange fading to bruised mauve.
Thanks to the motorhome’s efficient gas power, we had hot showers and prepared dinner in a cosy, warm environment without setting foot outside until the morning.
The convenience of an onboard shower and toilet is immeasurable. It sure beats traipsing to a facilities’ block on a freezing winter night.
Our simple dinner — chorizo, pasta and salad — tasted delicious at the end of our day in the great outdoors.
There’s something so exhilarating about the physical exhaustion you feel after a day of hearty exercise compared with the dull fatigue of staring at a computer screen for hours on end. I was tingling with a sense of wellbeing.
As Capitano and I began plotting our next port of call, I suddenly understood with absolute clarity why people of a certain age sell their homes of a lifetime, buy or even build a motorhome and begin new and simpler travelling lives . . . cruising terra firma.
• Justine Tyerman travelled in a Maui four-berth Cascade motorhome courtesy of thl and rode a Wisper Wayfarer e-bike courtesy of Electric Bikes NZ.